New Book Explores Elk Valley and Crowsnest Mining Communities

Wayne Norton—known here for his work on local history—is coming out with a new book on the history of the Fernie region called “Beneath the Coal Dust”.

Norton, who has family roots in Fernie, notes that the province’s southeast corner has rarely been included in narratives about the provincial past. Beneath the Coal Dust: Historical Journeys in the Elk Valley and Crowsnest Pass invites readers to explore a dozen forgotten topics, ranging from the champion women’s ice hockey team to the controversial red-light district, the historic brewery, and the history of the Chinese community.

“My interest in Fernie history began with a visit here in the early 1990s,” says Norton. That’s when he noticed how different the community seemed compared to his memories of childhood visits. The men he remembers gathering to chat on street corners downtown were gone, and his grandparents’ house on Mason Avenue had been relocated to make room for the Three Sisters Motel.

“When I started to become interested in the local past,” he explains, “I found it had been sadly neglected by historians.” He began to seek others who shared his interest and soon co-edited two collections of articles. Norton’s previous book with Caitlin Press, Fernie at War, 1914-1919, won the Community History award from the BC Historical Federation. Of his new book, Norton says he hopes the title speaks for itself. He also hopes readers will come to share his belief that the Elk Valley has the most fascinating and diverse history in all of British Columbia.

Historical Journeys in the Elk Valley and Crowsnest Pass can be ordered through independent bookstores, Indigo, and from the publisher, Caitlin Press. It can also be purchased at the official book launch at The Fernie Museum which will take place on October 8th.

Wayne Norton was born in Calgary, raised as an Air Force brat in Canada and Scotland, and now lives in Victoria, BC. Wayne’s teaching career in British Columbia and England involved classes ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in subjects such as music, special education and history. More recently, he worked as a research consultant for the Indian Residential School Resolution Process. With degrees in history from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, Wayne enjoys exploring neglected topics. In his many published books and articles Wayne has delved into Canadian music from the Great War, women’s ice hockey, public health, and the local histories of Kamloops and Fernie. His most recent book, Fernie at War: 1914-1919, won the Community History Award from the BC Historical Federation. Wayne is a member of historical associations in Victoria and Fernie. He notes that his three young grandchildren continue to delight—even as they remind him how quickly time passes by.